Ahwatukee studio offers film, other lessons for kids

Kema Charles recently opened Lights, Camera, Discovery, an Ahwatukee studio that provides lessons for aspiring thespians and crew, including a free workshop July 11-15. (David Minton/AFN Staff Photographer)

Kema Charles, founder and executive director of the new Arizona nonprofit Lights, Camera, Discover, has labored diligently for months to prepare her expansive Ahwatukee studio for youthful students.

Located at 4825 E. Warner, Suite 11, it is now completed, and she’s already signing up local children for their inaugural summer session – where they’ll be taught rudiments of video and film production.

From screenwriting to acting, directing, filming and editing, children ages 9 years and up can discover opportunities to grow during their week-long summer program July 11 through July 15.

Online registration for the summer program is currently underway and there is no charge.

Charles said classes and programs at the 11-year-old nonprofit are always free to attend although there is usually a class size limit.

“No, there is never a charge for our programs. We never want a family to feel their child can attend due to financial reasons. And we never want a kid that can pay versus those that can not pay feel like they are on a different level than one another. That is why we ask for donations. If a family wants to give they can do so in the form of a donation, not a registration fee. We are all the same and we will all be treated the same,” she said, smiling broadly.

Her work won recognition from the Festival of Lights Committee, which designated it as one of three beneficiaries – along with the Foothills and Club West HOAs – of the proceeds from last Friday’s Wine and Beer Festival.

Charles’ inaugural July session has space for 30 students ages 9 and up. Lunch and snacks are provided for the daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. classes.

Charles said students will learn the basics of filmmaking and animation while at the same time incorporating anti-bullying and social awareness campaigns into their own projects, individually and in groups.

And they will showcase their projects for family and friends at an event called “Final Screening” July 16, at the LCD studio.

“Whether their aim is to be an actor, a director, an animator, a photographer or a film producer, there is a program at LCD that will fit them,” said Charles, a Tempe resident.

The Ahwatukee studio is the second one Charles is currently operating in Arizona. After a forced COVID hiatus, her Tempe LCD will reopen this fall.

Charles also operates an LCD studio in Chicago. She said “a solid team” of qualified staff members enables her to keep the three running efficiently.

She said there’s a lot more to Lights, Camera, Discover than what meets the casual viewer’s eye.

“It’s not only about how you can make a film or public service announcement, it’s how you can apply what you learn to everyday life,” said Charles.

“It opens up their minds, and whether their dream is to be an actor, a director, an animator, a photographer or a film producer, there’s a program here at Lights, Camera, Discover that will capture their imagination.”

Weekday courses at the new Ahwatukee facility will be initiated after their week-long summer program ends and the local school schedule resumes.

Besides after-school LCD programs for ages 8 and up, LCD has partnered with Best Buy for a six-week, once-a-week class in coding this fall. The dates are currently being decided and will be posted, along with the available after-school classes, on her website LightsCameraDiscover.org.

Prior to opening their two Arizona studios and classrooms, Lights, Camera, Discover was in Pensacola, Florida.

Charles first discovered her own acting talents in Orlando, going on to act in 2000-2002 TV series “Sheena” and producing her own film in 2007.

She also served as director of operations for a filmmaking program in Abuja, Nigeria before founding her first LCD in 2011 in Los Angeles. Since 2013, she has launched Lights, Camera, Discover in four different states.

At 9,600 square feet, the Ahwatukee location is the largest LCD site to date. Charles said she chose the larger space purposely with the hopes that the rental venue might augment income.

“We have 3,200 square feet in our venue for renting out. Our classrooms and office space take up the remainder,” she said. “The potential income from the rental space helps us not to have to rely 100% on donations and grants.”

An extraordinary grant appeared as an early 2022 Christmas present.

Last December 6, Lights, Camera, Discover students and the founder were surprised with the presentation of a $100,000 grant, in oversized check form, presented by Suns guard Devin Booker at a press conference prior to a Phoenix Suns game against the Spurs.

He also presented the new cameras and laptops to the five LCD students attending who thought they were there for a meet-and-greet only.

Charles said they were all deeply touched at Booker’s largesse.

Charles explained a question on the registration form that may flummox some parents. It asks if the family is currently receiving public assistance.

“We work with all students. We are a very diverse program,” said Charles of her nonprofit. “In our application we do have a line asking about financial assistance, we ask that question in order to be a QCO (Arizona Tax Credit); we must ask these questions in order to qualify.”

To sign up for the week-long summer session, see their Programs page on their website at LightsCameraDiscover.org.

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